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Part One - Franny

Part One - Franny

I have written a series of character studies based on a fictitous group of people in their twenties. It is loose and there is no real plot as such - just a writing exercise. It might turn into something. This one is about Franny, an odd, exuberant sort of person, who prefers life on the border between fun and danger.

1

Literary fiction


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Dreyfus (Australia)


They plummet off the escarpment along a steep spiral of broken bitumen. Franny’s driving becomes only marginally fastidious through the hair-pin switchbacks. Millie reacted with mock horror, straight out of the Wes Craven School of dramatic screaming, exacerbated by her particular point of view over the roads crumbling edges.

They were trying not to listen to Franny’s crap, but Franny’s crap was pervasive. This time he was banging on about a dream he had the night before, and there are not many subjects more boring than that. Fearing for their strange sons’ sanity, Franny’s parents had talked him into seeing a psychologist who asked him to describe his dreams. To the dismay of his fellow journey-persons, both generally and currently, this is his latest thing.

“I was running through a long tunnel and all of a sudden that guy who plays Sil in the Soprano’s, you know Steven Van Zandt, jumped out of nowhere with a huge black plastic bag and began chasing me. I kept running until Tony Soprano appeared out of hole in the ground and shot Sil. Hey, did you know that Steven Van Zandt plays lead guitar in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.”

“Who is Bruce Springsteen, when he’s at home?” Millie said.

Since starting with the psychologist, he had been assailing anybody who will listen, with the minutiae of his less than heartbreaking sessions. His description of the therapist alone made her sound terrifying, but the other shit about him is truly the sort of thing that you can’t un-hear. He has taken it upon himself to continue the psychoanalysis outside of business hours, and to an audience. He’d make a half-way decent stand-up comic but for the toxic banality of the subject matter. To irritate further, he regales them with recovered memories, plainly bullshit with this group. They grew up with him and know, in garish detail, the narrative of each other’s lives.

Jace insightfully once said that Franny was a like contagion. Once you were in sneeze distance from him, you became infected. From then on there had been a great many jokes revolving around this concept. Josey swore blind she had taken up medicine for the sole purpose of finding an antidote. Ash had sardonically commented, he was so ravaged by the disease, he had lost the will to live. It was a decidedly ambivalent relationship but everybody put up with Franny, he was just part of them, part of the organism. They’d all been Franny’d one way or another.

By now, there had been a non-stop barrage of Franny verbiage since they left town and everybody was already weary of it, and wondering what possessed them to invite the boring fucker. They love Franny but in small doses. It’s a transport issue – Franny is the only one currently with a car; Jace’s old groaner having rather inconveniently shot a push-rod straight through the crankcase. For those who have not witnessed such an event, it’s not pretty. Jace all but cried for the sheer violence of his car’s demise. Ash, who was a passenger at the time, merely groaned with an existential despair.

“Any chance of you shutting-the-fuck-up Franny?” Ash suddenly yells over the road noise, the shitty car stereo and Millie squirming around and groaning uncontrollably in the back. Millie’s restlessness was only marginally less irritating than Franny’s.

Everybody called Franny, Franny; even his parents. He objected to it and so, in protest, ignored the nickname completely until someone actually wanted to convey important information, and has to revert to ‘Francis’ temporarily. Apart from those rare occasions, the protest had fallen on deaf ears. It’s entirely possible that the nickname was payback. If that were so, it would be for Franny’s incessant hyper-active gasbagging and propensity for life threatening escapades.

“Who’s up for a bit of badinage?” He would suggest when everybody was shit-faced and couldn’t think of anything worse. This was because one, they were shit-faced and two, the badinage invariably ends with somebody maimed, if not for life, for an amount of time that is not considered cool. There was always something with Franny; ‘badinage’, for instance, was code for let’s go out and do something really stupid. He later spuriously cited as support for his feckless activities, the fact that President Lincoln, upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe, declared “So this is the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war?” This apocryphal sound-byte was later recorded in The Evening Star or The Morning Grits or something. The rag’s ludicrous assertion, implied the President was referring to the ‘badinage’ between two character’s in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, to wit – “He turned deadly pale when he saw the writing, but still preserved his composure, and finished the playful warfare of badinage which he was at the moment carrying on with a lady opposite…” Franny arbitrarily deduced, the word suggested rather more than mere playful banter and thus ‘badinage became a component of the Franny lexicon. Nobody bothered to question Franny’s many preposterous historical assertions because he was interested in history to the point of obsession; particularly of the military variety. He played imaginatively, if not joyfully, with the hearsay aspects of historical veracity.

Franny, to this day had a lovingly reconstructed scale model of the barely remarked upon, but significant Battle of Carrhae of 53BC. It was in his parent’s garage, vehicles had been exiled to the front yard. His father, a week-end carpenter, helped with plans and construction. To anybody who cared to hear it, Franny pointed out, this was the battle that led to the end of the Roman Republic and the rise of empire. For the benefit of those who had not yet dropped him, he further explained the appointing of Rome’s first emperor was the result of a foolhardy venture into Persia by Crassus, the richest man in Rome at the time. The whole empire thing was due to this blowhard’s magna hubris by failing to notify the Senate of his intentions before de-camping. He promptly lost several of Rome’s illegally purloined legions along with his own life at Carrhae. As ill-judged a venture as any seen before or after. It was a disastrous defeat for Rome and the ensuing humiliation brought about civil war until, after the pre-requisite number of refusals and a garrotting or two of other pretenders, Julius Caesar was miraculously turned into the first Emperor. Hail Caesar.

During the construction of the replica he asked his father to make swords and shields for the group. They fought fierce battles in his backyard where Franny would perch on the septic tank and imperiously instruct his legions in the guise of no less a mentor than Pompey himself. He always favoured the brave underdog. There were often causalities; Josey had her arm in a plaster cast for many weeks due to one gruelling campaign, and even Franny himself, fell prey to an ambush as a result of a treacherous coup d’état, perpetrated by his own centurions, and had to spend several days in bed.

In fact, his many absences from school at this juncture - known as his heroic period – though reported to be the result of chronic jaundice were in truth, ‘battle fatigue’ as a result of fiddling with the minutiae of antediluvian carnage in the garage. This was quite understandably followed by a convalescent sojourn, for post-traumatic stress disorder.
His parents loved this strange, bright spark of a child as if he were an exotic gift. He was indeed pleasing to the eye. He had inherited his father’s sandy blond hair and slim, agile carriage. His face still showed the handsome lines of his childhood and he never failed to have an adoring boyfriend in the wings. His parents weren’t entirely at his beck and call but a harsh remonstration was always tempered by an assertion of unconditional love. You know the sort of thing – It is not you I fail to love, but your behaviour. Regardless, he seemed not to be spoiled. A good but erratic boy, occasionally given to outbursts of energetic unreason and unfathomable melancholy; was the appraisal of one of his teachers, necessarily confined to summary.

He came out to his friends and family as soon as he was aware of the inclination. It met with little consternation or even surprise. There were never any secrets or obfuscation on that score, nor any association made between his sexual preference and his occasional lapses into sadness. They took him to a gaggle of shrinks and mendicants, prescribing pills and unfathomably, on one occasion, a diet. None of it constrained the unique form of irresolute exuberance that seemed to erupt from they’re son. His was a form of madness that was entirely forgivable and, for the most part, endurable.


Competition: The Pen Factor 2016, Round 1

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Read Reviews

Review 1:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • There needs to be more balance between narration and dialogue. Avoid overdoing the narrative and remember that dialogue can diffuse long claustrophobic text.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
Characterization
  • Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
Main character
  • Your protagonist exhibited a unique voice and had original characteristics. Their actions and dialogue were convincing!
Character conflict
  • Your characters drew me into their world from the very beginning. Their goals, conflicts and purpose were clearly introduced and I wanted to find out more about them.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a challenging balancing act. The story had a clear and coherent progression with a structured plot.
Technique and tight writing
  • When writing is tight, economical and each word has purpose, it enables the plot to unravel clearly. Try and make each individual word count.
Point of view
  • Point of view helps the reader identify whose perspective we are engaging with, i.e. who is narrating the story. It can sometimes be helpful to double check that the point of view in the story is successfully handled. Ensure you consistently use the same point of view and tense throughout.
Style and originality
  • I loved your fresh approach. Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose requires both skill and practice.
Atmosphere and description
  • Your story was a feast for the senses. The atmosphere wrapped itself around me and transported me onto the page alongside your characters.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
Opening line and hook
  • Your strong opening and compelling hook was a promise of wonderful things to come!
General comments from your fellow writer 1:
I loved the characters and the way you have captured them from the very beginning. Your use of prose is exciting. (I had to look up the meaning of some words!) Some of your characters may need a little more rounding out, but no doubt that will take place later on in the book. From the beginning I was in the car with Franny and his people. You have captured the 'madness' of student life perfectly and also the dispair of loving parents who never will give up or give in. Well done, looking forward to the next section.

Review 2:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • The grammar, typography, sentence structure and punctuation would benefit from a further round of editing to avoid distracting from the quality of the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • There needs to be more balance between narration and dialogue. Avoid overdoing the narrative and remember that dialogue can diffuse long claustrophobic text.
Main character
  • Your protagonist exhibited a unique voice and had original characteristics. Their actions and dialogue were convincing!
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a difficult balancing act. Are you sure all the material is relevant to the plot, setting and atmosphere? Make sure each sentence makes sense to the reader, and each paragraph moves their experience forward.
Style and originality
  • I loved your fresh approach. Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose requires both skill and practice.
General comments from your fellow writer 2:
There's no doubt that you're a good, talented writer, however, the use of so many adverbs for me gives this piece the sense that you have over-written. The amount of adverbs in here is quite jarring - particularly in the first half of the piece. I think you could do with an edit - and I understand that although the discriptions work -there are, for me, far too many and it really does feel that the piece is over-written and that you, as a writer are trying to hard. I found this change in tense, that I'm not sure works... "They plummet off the escarpment along a steep spiral of broken bitumen. Franny’s driving becomes (change of tense) only marginally fastidious through the hair-pin switchbacks. But I do like the writing - you're clearly a very good writer I think, perhaps slightly, you're letting your own ability get in the way of the story. Good luck though, I think you do have something good and interesting here.

Review 3:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • The protagonist didn’t always respond believably against the backdrop of the story. Ask yourself if people would really answer to a situation in that way. Think about whether the characters’ voices could be more convincing for their age, background, gender, time period, genre, gender and ethnicity. Dialogue should be natural and consistent throughout the story.
General comments from your fellow writer 3:
Keep Writing !!